Archive for April, 2015

Globalisation: Homogeneity or Diversity Exercise

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Applying concepts of McDonaldisation and Disneyfication to contemporary cultural products helps students get to grips with the concept of globalisation (particularly its cultural form, but also its economic form). These concepts also provide a relatively easy way for students to explore some of the effects of globalisation in terms of cultural homogenisation and diversity theories.

The Exercise

In small groups, using the following table as a template choose a category, such as film (or add your own) and identify any common cultural products for your age group that you think conform to the idea of McDonaldisation and/or Disneyfication.

Once you’ve done this, repeat the process – but this time identify cultural products that don’t conform to McDonaldisation and/or Disneyfication.

   Television  Music  Film  Web sites
McDonaldisation Cartoons


Pop [bands are manufactured to appeal to certain age and gender group]  Romantic comedies [follow standard themes and developments]  










Teachers can use this exercise to introduce:

  1. Globalising processes.
  2. Globalising effects.
  3. Concepts of globalisation / glocalisation.


Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

George Ritzer has used the analogy of McDonalds (hence, “McDonaldisation”) to illustrate the rationalization of society and culture through 5 distinctive processes:

  1. Efficiency
  2. Calculability
  3. Predictability
  4. Irrationality
  5. Control.

This poster gives you a bit more information about each.


Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Bryman’s (1999) concept of “disneyfication” refers to the various processes involved in contemporary social and organisational change and for our (A-level) purposes we can understand these processes in terms of 4 key concepts:

  1. Theming
  2. De-differentiation of Consumption
  3. Merchandising
  4. Emotional Labour.

If you want to explore these ideas further this simple poster should suffice.

Revise Psychology: Reductionism

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Psychology Revision series for A-level and AP Psychology teachers and students.

This revision film uses the example of obesity to outline and evaluate reductionist and holistic approaches in psychology.

The full film is available to rent (7 days) or buy from and covers key:

  • definitions: reductionism, scientific parsimony, holism
  • applications: obesity,
  • evaluations: uses and limitations of reductionist and holistic approaches.

Psychology: Socially-Sensitive Research

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Socially-Sensitive Research looks at ways to help you structure exam answers around three key questions:

  1. Should the research be done?
  2. How should research findings be used?
  3. How should research findings be communicated?

The full film – now available for digital download to rent or buy – covers key:

  • knowledge: understanding social sensitivity, ethics
  • examples: Autism (Baron-Cohen, Auyeung), Kamin, Asbury and Plomin, Sieber and Stanley
  • application: understanding socially sensitive research through the examples of autism, genetics and education.

New Media: 1. Features

Friday, April 24th, 2015

This short series of blog posts looks at various dimensions of new media, beginning with a broad overview of some key distinquishing features:

As Socha and Eber-Schmid (2012) argue “Part of the difficulty in defining New Media is that there is an elusive quality to the idea of new”. This “elusive quality” can, perhaps, be best captured by thinking about how Crosbie (2002) suggests three features of new media make them qualitatively different to old media:

  • They can’t exist without the appropriate (computer) technology.
  • Information can be personalised; individualised messages tailored to the particular needs of those receiving them can be simultaneously delivered to large numbers of people.
  • Collective control means each person in a network can share, shape and change the content of the information being exchanged.

As an example Crosbie suggests “Imagine visiting a newspaper website and seeing not just the bulletins and major stories you wouldn’t have known about, but also the rest of that edition customized to your unique needs and interests. Rather than every reader seeing the same edition, each reader sees an edition simultaneously individualized to their interests and generalized to their needs”.

A further feature of new media is its capacity to be truly global in scope and reach. While older technologies like TV and film have global features – the American and Indian film industries, for example, span the globe – they are fundamentally local technologies; they are designed to be consumed by local audiences that just happen to be in different countries while new media, such as web sites or social networks, are global in intent. They enable global connections through the development of information networks based on the creation and exchange of information. A significant aspect of these global features is the ability to create and share text, images, videos and the like across physical borders through cyberspace.


New Media: 2. Issues

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

The various features of new media raise a new set of issues for both producers and consumers. In terms of the former, for example, the development of global computer networks have presented problems for media industries whose products are relatively easy to copy and distribute, with no loss of quality because of digital reproduction. The development of peer-to-peer networks, for example, has led to the rise of global forms of intellectual property theft (“piracy”), to which media conglomerates have responded in a range of ways:

  • legal prosecutions of individual offenders and attempts to shut-down illegal providers, such as Napster and Megaupload.
  • the development of new economic models. “Freemium” models, for example, provide a free service, such as software or a game, but users then pay a premium for “added extras”. Popular Facebook games, such as Farmville, have successfully taken this approach..

A further issue involves the “unauthorised access to computers and networks” (“hacking”), something that involves:

  • governments: cyberwarfare, for example, involves governments engaging in the politically-motivated hacking of rival government computer networks for reasons that range from espionage to sabotage.
  • organisations: In 2010 the American government claimed the cybertheft of copyrights and patents by China remained at “unacceptable levels”.
  • individuals: viruses and malware designed to damage computers, extort money or steal information.

Specific issues for consumers have a number of dimensions, particularly those surrounding personal privacy. Social media such as Facebook make money through advertising, which can now be individualised, personalised and targeted through the sale of users’ personal data to third-parties; users, therefore, exchange “free” services for some loss of privacy. While corporations such as Facebook simply monitor how their network is used in terms of what an individual likes or dislikes, discusses or avoids in order to deliver adverts matched to these behaviours, Kosinski et al. (2013) have shown it is possible to accurately infer a wide range of personal information, such as ethnicity, IQ, sexuality, substance use and political views, from an analysis of an individual’s “likes”.


New Media 3: Implications – digital optimism

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

The development of new media has led to a general debate about the implications of changing technologies and their impact on economic, political and cultural life, polarised around two opposing views – the first of which can be characterised as:

digital optimism

From this viewpoint the defining characteristic of new media is a form of digital liberation based, for Negroponte (1995), on four processes:

These processes impact on society in a range of ways:

In economic terms we see the development of new models of production, distribution and exchange, particularly “free” or “gifting” models where the consumer pays nothing to use a medium. One significant new model is the development of open economic systems where software, for example, is developed collaboratively to take advantage of wide creative pools of talent – an idea Tapscott and Williams (2008) call “Wikinomics” to reflect the pioneering collaborative efforts of Wikipedia.

Producers, especially large corporations, have to be more responsive to consumer demands because the ability to act as a global crowd, passing information swiftly from individual to individual, means corporate behaviour is continually being monitored, evaluated and held to account. Surowiecki (2005) argues digital technology facilitates crowd-sourcing, a process based on “the wisdom of crowds”; if you ask enough people their opinion a basic “crowd truth” will emerge.

Politically, the global flow of information weakens the hold of the State over individuals and ideas. Repressive State actions are much harder to disguise or keep secret when populations have access to instant forms of mass communication, such as Twitter. The Internet also makes it harder for the State to censor or restrict the flow of information and this contributes to political socialisation by way of greater understanding of the meaning of issues and events.

Culturally, behaviour can be both participatory and personalised, processes that in cyberspace can be complementary. The global village combines collectivity with individuality; cooperation flourishes while people simultaneously maintain what Negroponte calls the “Daily Me” – the personalisation of things like news and information focused around the specific interests of each individual. Personalisation contributes to participation through the development of a diverse individuality that leads to the development of new ways of thinking and behaving. The ability to be anonymous on the web encourages both freedom of speech and whistle-blowing.

Taken from:

Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (UK)


Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (USA)

Psychology: The Nature-Nurture Debate

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

This revision film frames and explains the nature-nurture debate around two classic applications:

  • Bandura’s BoBo doll and
  • Fallon’s neuroscience experiments.

  • The full film, now available as a digital download to rent or buy, covers key revision:

  • knowledge: framing the nature-nurture debate, neuroscience
  • applications: psychological approaches, Bandura, Fallon
  • evaluation: the arguments for and against nature / nurture approaches

  • New Media 4: Implications – digital pessimism

    Monday, April 20th, 2015

    An alternative interpretation – digital pessimism – argues the globalising processes on which new media depends are neither wholly beneficial nor unambiguous; while globalisation involves decentralising processes, for example, it also produces greater centralisation across economic, political and cultural behaviours.

    In economic terms “free” business models are only free in the sense they have costs hidden from the consumer. These include:

  • exploiting free labour: The news and opinion site The Huffington Post, for example, was built around the free labour provided by its blogging contributors; the site was, however, sold by its owners for $300 in 2011.
  • driving out quality: companies that can’t rely on cheap or free labour must either cut their costs, thereby potentially undermining quality, or go out of business.
  • privacy: new media that are dependent on free labour, such as social networking sites where consumers create content, make money by selling user data to advertisers.
  • copyright: Some corporate social media sites lay claim to the copyright of user-generated content, such as photographs and videos, that can then be sold to advertisers.

  • Conglomeration is a related process that mirrors the behaviour of old media corporations. The highly-concentrated ownership of new media allows global corporations to buy-up competitors or emerging technologies. This leads, for Schecter (2000), to a decrease in digital diversity in areas such as news production. As he argues “The Internet, is not very diverse, even though it appears to be. The concentration in ownership that is restructuring old media has led to conglomeration in news transmission and a narrowing of sourcing in new media. It is cheaper for Web sites to buy someone else’s news than generate their own”. In a related issue, it is also “cheaper” for global corporations to simply take and republish content generated by individual users with little or no prospect of recompense.


    New Media 5: Building a Better Mousetrap – Digital Incarceration

    Sunday, April 19th, 2015

    In the final part of this short series on new media we can note a significant extension to the idea of digital pessimism.

    While new media ownership is sometimes likened to what Socha and Eber-Schmid call “the growing pains of the American Wild West”, where a diversity of companies compete for market share, the reality is probably closer to its old media counterpart; various forms of vertical, horizontal and diagonal concentrating processes have increasingly come into play, leading to the notion of:

    digital incarceration. This involves the idea producers are able to create digital “prisons” that are entered freely by consumers; once there, however, they are locked in. Someone who puts their life online through social networks such as Facebook or Flickr finds it very difficult to leave. A further similarity between the behaviour of old and new media corporations involves two related processes:

  • locking-out competitors from markets.
  • locking-in consumers to products.
  • A relatively small-scale example of these tendencies is Amazon’s development of an eBook reader (the Kindle) that gave them control over who could publish eBooks for this product and how consumers could use the product (to buy eBooks form Amazon). On a much larger scale Apple has, over the past 30 years, consistently attempted to lock-out market competitors and lock-in product consumers; this corporate strategy failed spectacularly in the 1980s because Apple was not sufficiently powerful to challenge IBM’s strategy of allowing anyone to manufacture a “Personal Computer” (Apple would only allow third-party manufacturing under licensing they controlled). More-recently this strategy has, however, proved spectacularly successful with the development of the iPhone and iPad that allows Apple to control both of these processes.

    The concept of digital incarceration is not only an important concept in itself, because of the way it points to interesting tendencies and developments within new media (many of which are, equally significantly, an extension on a global scale of old media economic and cultural tendencies); it also has applications across other parts of the Media Specification.It can, for example, be applied to evaluate Pluralist arguments about consumer choice and media diversity, particularly in relation to moving the debate away from the significance of “individual choice”. In late capitalist societies, for example, the point is not whether individuals have “consumption choices” in terms of media technology but rather the consequences of exercising such choices.

    To use an analogy: whether a mousetrap is humane or inhumane in terms of how the mouse is treated, ultimately it’s still a mousetrap. For those, such as neo-Marxists, who are critical of pluralist approaches, it doesn’t particularly matter if consumers of both media hardware and software have a wide range of choices if the consequences of exercising such choices are ultimately much the same…

    The Usefulness of Psychological Research

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

    Exam questions that require you to “assess the usefulness” of psychological research have a high “waffle factor” potential (throwing everything you can think of at the question in the hope some of it might stick) and can be difficult to successfully negotiate unless you have a clear planned structure.

    As a general rule, therefore, try to structure your revision around broad questions about:

    • the usefulness to psychology.
    • the usefulness or value of specific studies
    • practical applications and value to society.
    • useful for whom?

    It’s also useful to narrow this down to key questions:

    • Is a psychological theory or model useful for the development of a psychological explanation? Give examples.
    • Is a psychology study useful for confirming, modifying or refuting a theory? Give examples.
    • Does an approach or a piece of research have beneficial practical applications for society? Give examples.
    • And don’t forget, always reflect on the question “Useful to whom?”: what may be useful to some may not be so useful for others.

    Psychology: Reliability and Validity

    Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

    Reliability and validity are two important methodological concepts in both Psychology and Sociology because they address the problems involved in “doing research” – and while this film is aimed at A-level and AP psychology students (who are required to cover the issues in much greater depth), it should also be useful for sociology teachers who want to firm-up their students’ understanding of these concepts.

    This short film looks at the key aspects of these important methodological concepts – from simple definitions, through an understanding of different types to examples of how they can be applied to different types of exam question – in terms of key:

    • definitions: reliability (internal and external),validity (internal and external)
    • examples: different types of validity, Bandura, Rosenhan
    • applications: where and how to apply these concepts in exam answers


    Now That’s Magic! The Free Will and Determinism Debate

    Friday, April 10th, 2015

    One of the major debates in A-level psychology involves considering the relationship between – and relative importance of – free will and determinism in explaining human behaviour.cards

    At A-level a fruitful approach to free-will / determinism questions is not to argue for “one or the other” – either we can make autonomous behavioural choices or our behaviour is determined in same way – but to understand the various ways our “free choices” are structured; to be aware, in other words, that the range of choices available to us, or which we see as viable and realistic, are strongly conditioned in some way – by our genes, brain structure, social structure (our membership of and investment in social groups) or whatever.

    A good way to illustrate this is to use Olson et. al’s recent research (Influencing choice without awareness, 2015) to show how our “apparently free choices” can be subtly influenced.

    The research demonstrates how magicians use a range of cues to “force” an individual to choose the card they want them to “freely chose” and, in so doing, suggest how our choices may actually be conditioned by a range of forces we may not fully comprehend.

    Ethics: Adding Research Funding into the Mix

    Friday, April 10th, 2015

    Ethics refer to the morality of doing something and ethical questions relating to research involve beliefs about what a researcher should or should not do before, during and after their research. As a matter of course, this normally includes considering both legal and safety issues

    1. Legal considerations include things like:
    • Legality: e.g. Breaching Data Protection laws, participating in or encouraging criminal behaviour.
    • Power: e.g. bullying or blackmailing (emotionally or physically).
    • Mistreating (physically or verbally) or misleading participants.
    • Getting the informed consent of those being researched.
    1. Safety considerations include things like:
    • Ensuring the physical and psychological safety of researcher and respondent
    • Not causing distress to potentially vulnerable people.

    There is another ethical dimension we can add that relates to neither of these areas, but which is nevertheless an important ethical consideration and concern, namely the sources of any research funding. “Who pays?” (and more pertinently perhaps, “What do they want in return for their money?”) is an ethical dimension to socio-psychology research that’s worth remembering

    Now That’s Magic Too! The Structure / Action Debate

    Thursday, April 9th, 2015

    Not to leave sociologists out of the equation, Olson et.al’s. research (Influencing choice without awareness, 2015) that looks at the tricks used by magicians to influence the choices made by their audience can also be used to illustrate the structure / action debate for students.

    Just as the magician uses a variety of techniques to “force” their subject to choose the card they want them to choose, social structures can be seen as a “force” that influences our “free behavioural choices” – and the idea of “structural forcing” can be applied in a range of ways across the Specification.

    In education, for example, you can use this idea to explore why males and females tend to take different subjects at a-level even though they apparently have a “free choice” of what subjects to study.

    Alternatively you could use this idea as the basis for exploring why males and females have different levels of criminality, participate in different types of crime and the like.

    Once students grasp the basic idea you can use it to explore how and why a wide range of apparently “free individual choices” are actually conditioned by our membership of social groups…

    What online learners want: An empirical study of Mooc videos

    Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

    Guo et.al’s study (How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos) offers some helpful insights into the use of online and classroom video materials – whether you’re creating your own videos or taking advantage of those, amateur and professional, created by others.

    Although you can download the complete study, if you just want the juice the main points to come out of it are:

    1. Brevity (viewers generally tune out after six minutes)
    2. Informality, with professors seated at a desk, not standing behind a podium
    3. Lively visuals rather than static PowerPoint slides
    4. Fast talkers (professors seen as the most engaging spoke at 254 words per minute)
    5. More pauses, so viewers can soak in complex diagrams
    6. Web-friendly lessons (existing videos broken into shorter chunks are less effective than ones crafted for online audiences)


    Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

    Although the distinction (and relationship) between personal and social identities is an important way of understanding this concept in A-level Sociology, if you want to take your understanding a little further you need to think about two additional, complementary, ideas:

    1.Being: This way of thinking about identity focuses on how social identities, considered in terms of ideas like class, age, gender and ethnicity, are lived in terms of the meanings they are given in various cultures. “To be” male or female, young or old, middle class or lower class” and so forth involves understanding the various cultural characteristics and expectations associated with these identities. Having been given socially-ascribed statuses such as “young male” or “young female” you might want to reflect on the cultural associations and meanings they hold.

    2.Doing: A second, more-nuanced, dimension to identity is the work we have to do in order to maintain such identities – both on a personal level (how do I interpret my identity as a young male or female?) and a social level (what do others expect from me once they understand this particular aspect of my identity?). Think about the work you have to do, as a young male or female, to maintain this particular identity. It might also be helpful to compare your ideas with your male and female classmates.

    In this respect, if “being” involves understanding the cultural norms surrounding a particular form or aspect of identity, “doing” involves thinking about the work that has to be done to conform to, or challenge, these forms (and, in terms of the latter, the likely consequences of such challenges – how do people react, for example, to young men / women who attempt to step-outside these cultural identities?).

    As further reading, Harman and Cappellini’s (2014) study of middle-class mothers is a relatively simple way of understanding the relationship between identity being and doing because it illustrates how women work at both class and gender identities through everyday, mundane, activities such as preparing school lunchboxes for their children: “lunchboxes are cultural artefacts influenced by classed notions of good mothering”.

    Flipped Classrooms

    Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

    The Flipped Classroom is something of a rarity in contemporary educational thinking and practice in that the concept is based on a reasonably-sound argument (at least as far as something like a-level study is concerned), namely that in an exam system designed to test a range of weighted skills (knowledge, understanding, application, evaluation…) it makes sense to organise teaching time around the best possible ways to teach and learn these skills. In other words, where something like evaluation is highly-rewarded in the exam it makes sense to devote precious classroom time to developing and honing this skill, rather than using said time to focus on something (like acquiring knowledge) that can be usefully carried-on outside the classroom via various forms of guided learning.

    While flipping the classroom may (or may not) be “the future”, 10 Reasons Flipped Classrooms Could Change Education is an interesting overview of why you might want to look at this idea further (and includes some reasons why you might not…).

    Exam tips: Transferable Concepts in Sociology

    Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

    A transferable concept is one that can be applied across a wide range of Specification topics – a feature makes them very useful in an exam. If you’re ever stuck for something to say about a question, for example, a quick reflection on your bank of transferable concepts will always give you something useful and pertinent to write.

    The trick, therefore, is to identify and build-up a bank of transferable concepts as part of the revision process – something you can do individually by going through your textbook / notes identifying concepts that come up time and again across different topics or collectively by creating Concept Cards that can be traded with your friends (you create Concept Cards by identifying a transferable concept and illustrating it with an evocative picture or icon).

    Incorporating this idea into the revision process is also a way of making revision more active and less routinised – by thinking about whether a concept is transferable you are also reflecting on its possible uses. If you’re swapping transferable concepts it also means you may have to explain exactly how and why such a concept is transferable. (more…)